Dining diversity abounds in Bloomington

by | Places, Featured Destinations

Bloomington, located in the southern part of the state, sits on rolling, verdant hills that burst with color in the fall, showing off its year-round scenic setting. It is home to Indiana University’s flagship campus, which has an enrollment of almost 49,000 and features a diverse, international population. The city also flaunts an epicurean sophistication, with plenty of chef-driven eateries among the typical college town drive-throughs.

The two-year-old Elm, named by USA Today as a 2024 Best Restaurant and one of Bloomington’s finer chef-driven establishments, sits on a tree-lined residential street in the historic Elm District, about a 15-minute walk from downtown’s courthouse square. Proprietors David and Martha Moore allow executive chef Dan Thomas to create a changing seasonal menu. Social media-friendly dishes reflect regional farms, ensuring a unique eating adventure with every visit. Elm’s breathtaking minimalist interiors with sand-colored banquettes, natural wood accents and Impressionist-like ocean mural in cerulean and beryl tones make it a chic spot. 

For a dozen years, the all-vegan Rainbow Bakery baked fresh treats for those with a sweet tooth. With a retro-inspired interior, the one-of-a-kind area business serves pastries, cakes, cookies and donuts made with plant-based ingredients without compromising taste or texture. In spring 2024, the owners, who also own nearby Hopscotch Kitchen and Hopscotch Coffee, placed the business on the market, but the bakery is still operating and will do, even if another individual commits to its storied stewardship. 

Since its opening in August 2023, the friendly Maru Products Artisanal Bakery & More has been a welcome addition. The bakery offers a South American selection of housemade sweet and savory baked goods, such as savory arepas and empanadas. Venezuelan-born Maru Macabe, who moved to Bloomington in 2016, brings yummy showstoppers of her former country with delicious handhelds such as the mozzarella stick-like tequeños, gooey cheese encased by fried dough instead of dipped in breading. Or try the cachitos, hearty half-moon pastries stuffed with ham, cheese or both. 

Uptown Cafe, a long-standing fixture in Bloomington’s cultural landscape, has a rich history over almost five decades. It opened in 1976 on Walnut Street, with a “diner-esque” vibe, as chef and owner Michael Cassady has described. However, its longest iteration has been the Kirkwood Avenue spot, a stone’s throw from the courthouse. The legendary restaurant is still known for its delicious American-style dishes with Cajun Creole flavors peppered throughout. Hearty gumbo, blackened seafood, and other nods to New Orleans, burgers, and other global flavors appear at lunch and dinner. 

Other Bloomington favorites include Janko’s Little Zagrab, which opened in 1973 and still ranks among the region’s top steakhouses, and chef Daniel Orr’s FARMbloomington, with its much-loved garlic fries and award-winning Luger burger as well as creative pizzas and globally inspired cuisine. And plenty of global flavors can be found on Fourth Street’s “International Row,” with Burmese, Tibetan, Thai, Korean and Indian restaurants.

Bloomington’s 21st-century dining scene, which has grown over the last several decades, mirrors the city’s inclusive spirit and progressive values. Whether craving a sophisticated dining experience, vegan donuts, Latin-inspired eats, global flavors or American classics, visitors will discover a diversity generally found in a much larger metropolis.

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